No Live Heroes

Somewhere in the period before seminary I can remember having made the decision that I would have no live heroes in my spiritual life. I can’t remember whether this was something that I had heard somewhere else or not, though I don’t know that the expression is either original or unique to myself. J. Oswald Sanders’s book Spiritual Leadership made a great impression on me in those years of preparation, and the insight may have come from there. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones book Preaching and Preachers also mentioned how sickened he was by how some of the younger preachers tried to emulate older preachers that they idolized, and how one tried to do so with himself.

Since then, I have seen the effect over the years on the lives and ministries of those who take someone living as their example. The key word is idolize. The living person, the spiritual leader, becomes a kind of an idol to the younger or spiritually immature man. There may be even something of a kind of what psychologists call a ‘merge wish’; a desire to take on so much of the person who is idolized that it almost seems like an attempt to merge personalities.

Here are what I’ve seen with some the leaders that are idolized:

  • The idolized spiritual leader may be himself more glib than anything else. He may seem to have an answer for everything, but with a little closer examination it is found to be borrowed or plagiarized from someone else. It may not truly be the result of reading, studying and obeying the Word of God and prayer as much as it is repeating phrases and actions of still another spiritual leader.
  • The idolized spiritual leader may seem to be charming and funny, but on closer examination the charm contains a good deal of self promotion and the jokes ridicule and caricature other people with whom the leader disagrees.
  • The idolized spiritual leader may seem to know a lot, but a number of his statements and phrases are delivered with more forcefulness and posturing than necessary, and on further examination turn out to be  trite, contrived or borrowed.
  • The idolized spiritual leader may be popular, particularly with those of the same age group, but older, more spiritually mature believers are much less enthusiastic about the leader and the teaching.
  • The idolized spiritual leader includes a great deal of criticism of other teachings, some of which is fair and some of which is distorted and misstated.
  • The idolized spiritual leader may not be explicitly heretical in doctrine but still visibly lack humility, compassion and a generous spirit toward other genuine believers who may disagree on nonessential points of doctrine.

Here are the results that I’ve seen in the lives of those who idolize a living spiritual leader:

  • They fall into deep disappointment and often neglect church fellowship if the idolized spiritual leader falls into a scandalous sin.
  • They become filled with spiritual pride toward other believers and often very critical of them from taking on the critical and mocking spirit of the idolized spiritual leader.
  • They take on a false confidence because of their trust in the teachings of this leader rather than a calm and peaceful confidence in the revealed Word of God.
  • They spend more time taking in the teachings of the idolized spiritual leader and repeating what he says rather than spending time in the Word and prayer and preaching and teaching what they might learn of God first hand.
  • They become quite dogmatic, defensive and argumentative where other believers legitimately disagree with the idolized spiritual leader based upon scripture.
  • They try to force-feed others the teachings of this leader during their preaching and teaching, simply becoming more forceful, dogmatic and truculent if they sense disagreement from others.

The answer, of course, is simple. They need to come back, to be rooted and grounded in Christ, and upon his Word. I’ve seen some who have done that after having been carried away into leader-idolatry. They are not so easily led into spiritual danger a second time.

Common Linguistic Fallacies in Biblical Word Studies

Word studies are a common Biblical study, teaching and preaching method. Most of the time the data from these studies arise from a faulty methodology, so that the conclusions may well be invalid.  Most of these fallacies arise from an inadequate theory of human language that continues among the older Biblical reference works and many of the more recent word study reference works.

In linguistics itself, an isolated word carries only limited meaning: the normal usage, other idiomatic usages, and the connotation (the emotional impact) and the denotation (the definition). Rather, the sentence itself – the series of words in syntactical relation to each other that convey a complete thought — is the primary carrier of meaning. Therefore, for Biblical study in the original languages, grammatical relations among the words in a sentence are as important as the actual individual words themselves. So, when Francis Schaeffer referred to the Bible as propositional revelation, he was not only philosophically but also linguistically accurate.

The most common linguistic fallacy is etymologizing. Etymology is not the same thing as the meaning of a word; rather, it is a history of the various meanings that the word has had throughout the time of its usage. Current usage is the real determinant of meaning in a sentence. One of the most common examples where a word’s meaning has shifted from its original etymological meaning is the English word nice. The word is derived from the Latin word nescius, which means ignorant, but calling someone nice in current usage is not usually considered to carry any meaning of ignorance. In the 18th century, nice meant ‘precise,’ but neither does calling someone nice in current usage carry any meaning of precision.

Rather, the chief usage of etymology in linguistic study is to illuminate the meaning of rarely used words. This is most useful in classical / Biblical Hebrew, since rarely used words tend to have insufficient usage to establish a definite meaning.

So, the upshot is that those who study the Bible and those who listen to Biblical preaching and teaching should carefully evaluate any arguments based on etymology of a word. Unfortunately, it is much, much easier for a pastor or teacher who is not fluent in the original languages to look up a word in a Greek or Hebrew dictionary and to give some appearance of scholarship than to wrestle with dealing with the grammatical and semantic relations of the sentences of the text – in other words, translating the text on his own, and noting connotation and idiomatic usages of the original language.

The next most common linguistic fallacy is appeal to meanings far away in time, distance and culture from the original writer to establish a meaning for a particular word. For instance, a Biblical scholar, preacher or teacher may appeal to usages in classical Greek and authors that most New Testament writers, with the possible exception of Luke, would not have read. In other words, Paul would most likely never have used a Greek word with a conscious awareness of how Homer used it and intended it to be understood in the same way. Moreover, it is also most likely that Paul would never have used a word with a meaning that is not attested until several hundred years later, when there was a well attested contemporary meaning and usage.

Here are the main fields of usage to establish meaning for Biblical words, from closest to furthest in validity:

  • Usage with the Biblical book itself.
  • Usage within the works of the same Biblical author.
  • Usage within the Biblical books of approximately the same date.
  • Usage within the same Testament.
  • Usage within the other Testament in the same language – namely, the Septuagint for the New Testament usage.
  • Usage within the common language of the time.
  • Usage within the entire lexical stock – the entire known and attested vocabulary – of the language of the book.

The closest field of usage establishes the meaning of a word with the best validity. The furthest – which is unfortunately often the one which someone uses to try to get support for an unusual interpretation – is the one with the least validity – and it is a semantic fallacy to try to use it to contradict any of the closer field of usage.

Another source of linguistic fallacies are the ignorance of polysemy (the same word with different meanings) and ignorance of synonymy (different words with the same or similar meanings). These can mean the inclusion of irrelevant data or exclusion of relevant data.

For an example of ignorance of polysemy, I once heard an attempt to give a discourse on pastoral visitation based on the usage of the word visit in the Old Testament. Unfortunately, it was difficult to keep a straight face during the discourse, since the word visit in the Old Testament was used to express God’s visitation of judgment, and not with his coming in any manner appropriate to a pastoral visit. The polysemy of the word visit was thus ignored, and a ludicrous application to pastoral visitation only narrowly averted.

Another case where synonymy was ignored was in an etymology of the Greek word daimon, which is usually translated in the New Testament as demon. Its earliest attested meaning is deity, and one scholar tried to derive it from the word daio, which means to cut and cleave. He came up with an ingenious explanation that this derivation was due to the cutting done during animal sacrifices. Rather, this etymology ignored the synonym daio, which means to shine, and a daimon – deity – would be a shining one in its earliest derivation if the synonymy of the word had been followed.

One more area where synonymy may be ignored is where different words with the same meaning are used close together, perhaps even in the same context. This is often simply a matter of writing style rather than an attempt to use a word with one slightly different nuance of meaning and another with another slightly different nuance of meaning. It would definitely be a thin argument to try to make much of what may simply a stylistic variation in vocabulary.

Linguistic fallacies often occur when dictionaries and translations miss idiomatic usage. Thus, mistranslations and misinterpretations come when there is ignorance of colloquial usage. For this, the New International Version mistranslates Mark 7:37 as “He has done everything well” when it should be, “He has made everything well.” This makes the meaning of the passage much clearer: the people are marveling at the  healing ministry of Jesus, who has healed all kinds of ailments. One of the most common places where idioms are missed are where Biblical authors cite common sayings and proverbs.

Here’s how to evaluate linguistic arguments which are found in Biblical reference works and preaching and teaching:

  • Is the author appealing to the etymology of a word that is not a rare word? The author’s point may be valid on other grounds, but the linguistic evidence is probably being misunderstood and misused, and this is probably unintentional.
  • Is the author appealing to authors far removed from the Biblical writer when data from other writers is available who are closer to the Biblical author in time and culture? Usually a good dictionary will carry indications of time of different usages and representative authors.
  • Is the author ignoring polysemy, synonymy, homonymy, or idioms? Again, a good dictionary, used with awareness of polysemy, etc., can be of great help.

Here are some guidelines for more valid word studies:

1. Make use of good dictionaries and concordances. Unfortunately, the best works may be too technical or call for greater fluency in the original languages than many pastors and teachers can or will attain. The large and expensive Liddell and Scott dictionary of ancient Greek, or Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker for New Testament and patristic Greek are well worth the expense for anyone who can gain fluency in ancient Greek. Also useful are Moulton and MIlligan’s Vocabulary of the Greek Testament as Illustrated from the Papyri. Beware of extensive use of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon or Gesenius’s Hebrew Lexicon, since these are basically pre-archaeological, and do not have the kind of relevant linguistic data available from papyri and inscriptions that the later works do.

2. Master the alphabet of whatever language you are using! Most problems that people have learning Greek and Hebrew start with inadequate familiarity with the alphabet.

3. Along with reference works, pay attention to the various modern translations. Anyone not familiar with the original languages should beware of coming to any conclusions contrary to the united testimony of the Revised Version, the Revised Standard Version, the New International Version, etc.

4. Nouns and verbs find themselves studied the most often; adjectives and adverbs less often, and prepositions and transitional particles least of all. Unfortunately, the New American Standard Bible Old Testament suffers greatly from misunderstanding of the Hebrew prepositions, especially in the Psalms. Prepositions also tend to add meanings throughout time, so the New Testament usage can be quite complex. Again, check the dictionary!

Too often commentators ignore grammatical relation – syntax – or misunderstand it. Blass—Debrunner – Funk is probably the best for the New Testament.

Here are some works that I found helpful.

Moises Silva. Biblical Words and Their Meaning (Paperback)

Moises Silva. God, Language and Scripture (Paperback)

James Barr. The Semantics of Biblical Language (Paperback)

G.B. Caird. The Language and Imagery of the Bible (Paperback)

Anthony Thiselton. The Two Horizons: New Testament Hermeneutics and Philosophical Description with Special Reference to Heidegger, Bultmann, Gadamer, and Wittgenstein (Paternoster Digital Library) (Paperback)

Breakup Excuses in Dating, Engagement and Marriage

On a Focus on the Family radio broadcast I heard James Dobson mention the five most common excuses that he heard for abandonment and divorce of a spouse. I managed to copy down four of them:

  • The marriage was wrong in the first place, most commonly because the abandoning partner claims that there was no real love in his or her heart when the marriage took place.
  • The marriage was not healthy, and abandonment and divorce would be better for both partners in the end.
  • Because of all the fighting, divorce and abandonment will be better in the long run, especially for the children.
  • The abandoning and divorcing partner claims to have prayed about it, and is claiming God’s approval.

What struck me when I was listening to the program was how much these excuses paralleled the excuses that I’ve heard both first hand and second hand for breaking up in a dating relationship or engagement.

What I remember from the broadcast is that these were viewed as smokescreens for reprehensible conduct and shifting of blame to the other partner for the abandonment and divorce.

Over the past two decades or so there have been some voices within the evangelical community critical of the practice of dating as the method for selection of a marriage partner. I personally do not believe in the validity of some of these criticisms, but I think that this is evidence that many couples during their years of dating do pick up habits of abandoning temporary romantic relationships and excuses for doing so that undercut their commitment to making their marriages permanent. They simply have a series of escape routes from relationships pre-programmed into their brains from previous temporary romantic relationships that come into play when the current marital relationship becomes dissatisfying for some (usually fixable) reason.

I don’t believe that these marriages were necessarily entered into with the view that they were in the same status as a casual to serious dating relationship or marriage. But it may well have been that those involved took the ways out that they knew from their previous experience.

Here are some ideas that come to me as I consider this.

  • Teaching on dating and marriage within youth and college age groups could well include warnings that dishonest ways of abandoning a dissatisfying dating relationship can have a lasting legacy on how a person treats the permanent, lifetime commitment of marriage.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone ever in the evangelical community mention ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) as the standard of communication within dating relationships, especially when it comes to parting ways – or rather, putting the relationship back on the level of casual friendship of brother and sister in Christ. In fact, many of the dating stories that I’ve heard even in a teaching context contained a good deal of dishonesty and intentional misleading of the potential partner.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community when teaching on revival and spiritual renewal ever speak of confession to God of the sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness during dating relationships, even when there was no sexual transgression involved. Yet even after many years this unconfessed sin may weigh down the conscience.
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community ever speak to confession to a past dating partner of sins of dishonesty, exploitation and selfishness when teaching on restitution and confession of sin to each other. Yet these kinds of sinful behavior break hearts, cause untold amounts of grief, and even in some cases lead to suicide or attempted suicide. (No such confession need ever simply be the unburdening of a conscience or imply under any circumstances a desire for restoration of any kind of romantic relationship. Rather, I would encourage any such confessions be made in the presence of a spiritual leader or current spouse, if the person is already married.)
  • I do not recall ever hearing anyone in the evangelical community mention anything in a preaching or teaching context about unrequited love, the devastating breakup or the heart broken as a result of what I could call relationship breakup trauma, except for the divorced. Simply acknowledging the real hurt that is often lingering in the hearts of many single people, and Christ as the healer of broken hearts, could be a way for churches and pastors to build a bridge of hope and healing to many single people who are either suffering silently in the pews or neglecting church attendance because preaching and teaching ignores those who are single and hurting. (There is one highly rated book by an evangelical author on unrequited love: Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Ethics of Unrequited Love by Laura A. Smit. )

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part VI: The Resolution of Romantic Gridlock

Lover: 5:1a: Conclusion to the Celebration of Married Love: The chapter break was most insensitive to the flow of the dialogues, since the first two verses of chapter five are the summation of the time of intimacy of chapter 4.

The past tense of the verbs, and the first person singular shows that here Solomon declares his personal satisfaction and fulfillment from the time of intimacy with his Shulammite bride in answer to her invitation in 4:16 to enjoy her love to the fullest.

Friends: 5.1b: This choral interjection of the “friends” (the “daughters of Jerusalem”) would seem to intrude on the lovers’ intimacy and privacy. Perhaps it would be best visualized as a call from outside to their bedroom window (which would be covered with a wooden lattice, not a glass pane or metallic screen).

Beloved: Verses 2-9: Second Dream Sequence: Romantic Gridlock and How to Get Around It

Visualize the Shulammite sitting in a circle with the other young women of Solomon’s court and relating this dream. The dream is a kind of lesson for them and for her.  This is one of the most humorous passages in the entire Bible! Romantic gridlock can make potent comedy, but it can also bring real disappointment, discouragement and pain. In addition, in some ways this dream is also more realistic than the first one that the Shulammite narrates in 3:1-4.  It demonstrates some of the real problems of romantic gridlock that occur even in godly marriages. The motive for the narration of the dream within the context of the Song of Songs would be her desire to resolve a possible situation of romantic gridlock within her own marriage, and conceivably through the mouth of the Shulammite Solomon is teaching everyone something about the resolution of this problem.

V.2: the lover’s hurry to come into her bedroom: note the haste in his voice, as expressed in the quick repetition of the terms of endearment to her, and contrast this to the patient buildup to the time of intimacy from the previous chapter.  Note also the apparent appeal to her compassion in the statement of his being wet and damp from the night air.  Whether this was realistically how Solomon acted at one time or another, it demonstrates that even the greatest lover may have times of ineptitude and insensitivity. What effect should this have on the expectations of spouses, real or potential?

V. 3: The daintiness of the bride: the Shulammite’s thoughts are not for the satisfaction of her poor husband, but for her own cleanliness.  Apparently the floor was either packed dirt or stone, either of which would have dirtied her. Note the conflicting moods and concerns of the lovers.

V. 4:  With most unSolomonic wisdom, the king attempts to get in the door without her assistance.  As this happens, she begins to warm up to his presence and eagerness.

V. 5:  The Shulammite goes to open the door — after having taken a stop to dip her hands in some perfume!

V. 6:  But, by the time she opens the door, he is gone. Apparently he had been discouraged and disappointed prematurely by her delay, and had gone away.  Disappointed herself, she tries to call for him, but he does not come. Whether he was out of earshot is not clear.

V. 7: This time in the dream the city guards treat her like a night thief, and beat her to send her home and “teach her a lesson.” What lesson do you think she actually learns from this?

V. 8: Apparently the dream had the real effect upon her of stirring up her love for Solomon all over again. Perhaps she had the fear that somehow he was actually feeling what he had experienced in the dream. Perhaps she felt that the dream was an indication or warning that somehow she had given him some disappointment through a perceived rebuff at some time.

V. 9: The Shulammite gives the charge to the other women, to tell him her passion for him if they should meet him. In effect, after the resolution of the romantic gridlock within her own heart,  she asks them to become her go-betweens, as she seeks to resolve the romantic gridlock, real or feared, between herself and Solomon. Contrast this to the forwardness she showed in 1:7-8, where she approached him. Perhaps she herself felt some shame and embarrassment at a supposed rebuff.

5:10: The  teasing reply of the friends to the plea of the Shulammite, on why they should be the bearers of the message to him. Do you think that it was right for the Shulammite to seek the assistance of her friends in the restoration of her love life? What guidelines can you come up with from what has preceded this in the Song of Solomon and from scripture as a whole? What is the difference between godly counsel and ungodly interference?

5:11-16: The Shulammite’s description of Solomon emphasizes how he is attractive to her. It is doubtful that she did not expect that these words would not be filtered back to him in one way or another. The occasion calls forth her own powers of metaphorical description, as she reflects back to him how handsome he is to her in terms reminiscent of his own praise of her. Like her, his face is tanned, with black hair, with soft and expressive eyes.

The use of gems  in her description requires some explanation. Chrysolite is a yellow topaz like mineral, and its inclusion with gold emphasizes the tanned appearance of his arms and legs which would have been exposed to the sun outside a tunic or robe. The torso would have a lighter, untanned appearance like ivory, since it would not normally be exposed to the noonday sun. Sapphire is lapis lazuli, a green semiprecious stone valued in the Ancient Near East; the modern sapphire was practically unknown. It is unclear what features of his body would compare to this gem, but the comparison was common in ancient epic and love poetry. Like him, she is describing the appeal of him to her, as he was created to be. Apparently there was as much physical attraction in her for him as there was in him for her.

1. Note how the Shulammite describes Solomon as her friend. What part would the actions and attitudes of friendship, rather than mere romantic overtures,  have on the resolution of romantic gridlock? How does she attempt to appeal to his need, rather than inflame his attraction to her?

2. This  passage suggests one way in which one can learn to express one’s love to a spouse more effectively: by noticing and echoing back the expressions of love which come from the spouse. It is reasonable that the lover would express love in a way in which might reflect the way in which he or she would in turn like to be loved. What can you think of in the attempts of someone of the opposite sex to express love to you that can teach you how someone of the opposite sex might want love to be expressed to him or her? What scriptural principle of conduct does this reflect? If there is a spouse or potential spouse in your life, what would you say are the ways that he or she most needs and seeks for you to give him or her affection?

3. The use of gems and metal in the Shulammite’s description of her husband also suggests a masculine muscularity to Solomon. Earlier in the discussion of feminine beauty, I wrote, “Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquillity have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction  . . . Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your [spouse] and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation . . .  How would this relate to a Christian man seeking to keep himself well groomed and physically fit, and attractive to a spouse or potential spouse?

Concluding question: Why do you think that the Holy Spirit inspired Solomon to include this chapter in the Song of Songs? What message does it hold for godly couples of all ages?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part V: the Husband as Lover and the Wife as Responder

First Soliloquy of the Lover: a Pattern of Gentle, Tactful Wooing: 4:1-15:

This is a scene of sexual arousal. It happens within the bonds of marriage, and is therefore in line with the purpose of God for the way in which he has made men and women to respond to each other.

Solomon begins his soliloquy with the admiration of the beauty of his bride. He admires:

  • In verse 1: the softness of her eyes (the comparison is to the common wood pigeon)
  • In verse 1: the beauty of her black hair (goats in the Middle East are usually black)
  • In verse 2: her perfect white teeth (unusual in an era before dentists)
  • In verse 3: the appeal of her mouth (red with lip coloring)
  • In verse 3: her forehead under her veil (olive skinned and tanned like the skin of a pomegranate). Note here also her wearing the veil (or rather, headdress or “hair covering” ) of a married woman. This further confirms the legal marriage of the man and the woman here.
  • In verse 4:  her neck with a necklace of teardrop shaped plates of silver (looking like a tower hung with shields).
  • In verse 5: he continues with his admiration of more intimate features of her body.

Note that he begins with his gaze into her eyes, and begins to describe her beauty from her face downward. In the privacy of the bedroom then he begins to describe the beauty of her body whose modesty is normally shielded by clothes.

The graphic sensuality and sexuality of this chapter is fatal to the allegorical view of the Song of Songs as a depiction of the love of Christ and his church. The love of Christ and his people is not of this nature. Note also the visual arousal of the man by seeing his wife. Here the way in which he has been created to experience his arousal finds its fulfillment. She is God’s masterpiece for his private admiration and enjoyment (as he is for her also).

In verse 6 Solomon signals that he is willing for this time of intimacy to last all night. In verse 7 , moreover, with the eyes of love, he sees no flaw in her. All this is noteworthy for its gentleness, delicacy and care with which he deals with his bride.

Solomon may well have been in his thirties during the time that this was supposed to have taken place. The Shulammite bride may have only been in her early to mid teens — the usual age for women to be married among the ancient Israelites.Thus, the Song of Songs depicts his wisdom, delicacy and tact in dealing with a beautiful teenage bride. The possible age difference seems strange to a modern reader, but it would have not been unusual in the Biblical era. It does demonstrate the kind of masculine gentleness and tenderness which a husband can imitate just as well with a woman more his age, as is more usual in our day and age.

In verse 8 Solomon gives an invitation to his bride which is admittedly difficult to interpret. Since the areas which he refers to were forested areas with wild animals, it could be a playful way of saying, “Come to me, you wild country woman.”

In verses 9-11  Solomon goes on to declare his romantic infatuation with his bride. Much has been written about the pitfalls of infatuation by evangelical writers, but one thing is clear here: its existence within the bonds of marriage is in line with God’s purpose.

Verses 12-15 are Solomon’s comparison of his bride with a garden and a flowing fountain. Verse 12 is noteworthy for its declaration of her exclusivity for him. (Although Solomon has already professed his utter infatuation with her, it is unfortunate that he could not have likewise professed his exclusivity for her.)

Excursus: The Christian man as a loving husband: God’s provision of an example

One of the problems of men becoming loving husbands is often their lack of an example to follow. One of the most influential images of a man upon a man’s understanding of his own identity over the past generation has been that of man as provider. Thus, many men have considered their duties fulfilled as husband and father with the provision of a steady paycheck. Another image prevalent is that of man as hero (either in war or in sports). Biblically, the image of manhood is man as a son of God by faith in Jesus Christ. This adds another dimension onto that ruling metaphor for the Biblical definition of a man’s identity, to man as loving husband. The married man who follows Jesus Christ is not fulfilling God’s purpose for his marriage or his manhood unless he begins to allow himself to be molded into the kind of  loving husband that he can be by the grace of God. Here God gives an example of marital wooing of a woman as a part of that image.

Single men can likewise find something to learn here about becoming a loving husband, not in action, but in developing and demonstrating the potential. This is the purpose of premarital wooing of a woman: not in seeking any sort of sexual intimacy before marriage but in wooing her toward the commitment of marriage by giving her the assurance of the potential of being a loving husband after marriage.

1. Seek to be gentle and delicate in your admiration of the beauty of your wife.

2. Protect her modesty by being careful to admire in the bedroom what should only be exposed there.

3. Compliment her strong points (and ignore/overlook her weaker points).

4. Express admiration of her and your feelings about her in making the loving invitation to intimacy.

The sweet surrender of the bride: 4:16: The bride gladly expresses her surrender to the loving invitation and advances of her husband. Use your imagination for what tone of voice these words would have been spoken.

Wives: consider how you respond to your husband’ advances. Have you been pettishly rejecting? Or have you been tiredly apathetic? Or joyfully enthusiastic?

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part IV: The True Depth of Married Love

Introductory note on the Song of Solomon: its inclusion in the Bible and its value today:

“Can we suppose such happiness unworthy of being recommended as a pattern to mankind, and of being celebrated as a subject of gratitude to the great Author of happiness?” — Johann David Michaelis, 19th century German pastor and theologian

Beloved: 3:1-5: the Shulammite bride apparently recounts a dream of seeking her husband (note the parallel to the dream recounted in 5:2-7). Apparently her dream was that she could not find her husband in bed with her so she went into the city at night to seek him. It would have certainly been unusual for a woman to be out at night alone in the city in the ancient world. Apparently this reflects the subconsious depth and reality of her longing for her husband.

The watchmen (the city guards) were apparently unable to help her. Once she found him, though, she took him to her mother’s house (not the palace bedroom) for a time of intimacy. This conclusion to the dream matches the fantasy she recounts to her husband in 8:2, which reinforces the narration of this dream as an expression of wish fulfillment.

Note the repeated description of her husband: the one my heart loves. Since “heart” meant the seat of thought, the intrusion of this desire for her husband into her dreams demonstrates the depth of her passion for him.

  • The principle of subconscious awareness and desire

The depth of married love is such that it affects our thoughts even when we are not conscious.

In the Bible, dreams are often considered as communication from God: the dreams of  Jacob, Joseph, Pharoah, his cupbearer (the “butler”) and his baker, Nebuchadnezzar, and Joseph the earthly father of Jesus all come to mind. This is an indication that there was also an awareness that these dreams had other meanings. Here it would be more in tune with the modern psychological theory that dreams also express subconscious desires and fears.

Our dreams likewise sometimes depict the fulfillment of our subconsious anxieties, desires and fantasies without being clearly prophetic. It is not superstitious or overly introspective to give consideration to what is in one’s dreams. Many times the dreams depiction of our own anxieties, desires and fears can assist us to understand what is truly on our minds, especially if they include a spouse. Once we can understand our anxieties, desires and fears, we can then confront them in the light of scripture in the presence of the Lord.

Friends: 3:5: a refrain which has already appeared in verse 7: not to try to manipulate love prematurely. Here it seems to reflect the reality that true marital love cannot but show itself in one’s innermost thoughts and desires.

3:6-11: It is not clear who the speaker is here. The verses describe the return of Solomon to Jerusalem with his new bride. The opening question is literally, “Who is this woman . . . ” Her swarthy color from her tan is suggested by comparing her to the column of smoke, but the perfume also stamps her as having been richly endowed by the king.

Without undue spiritualization, this may be seen as an illustration of the wonder of salvation, of the person who has come from the status of sinner and yet still exudes the savor of Christ from his life, because of having been chosen and loved by the king.

The king came back with his royal carriage and retinue of picked warriors (like the ‘mighty men’ of his father David) to bring her to his palace. He wore a new crown for this wedding, the gift of his mother Bathsheba. In ancient weddings the groom went from his home with a group of his friends and relatives to the house of the bride to lead her back to his home, and the king himself did so with his royal procession for this bride.

The retinue of picked warriors demonstrates the king’s care for protection of himself and his wedding party also. The journey from wherever the Shulammite was really from — if from ‘Shulem’ in northern Israel — would be dangerous even for a royal party without suitable protection.

The use of the special carriage also shows the concern of Solomon to use his very best for this special occasion.

For the king this was a special time of joy — a marriage of love and not of politics.  He wore a special crown perhaps as a precursor of the later custom of wearing crowns at Jewish weddings.

The mention of this ceremonious return of Solomon with his bride certainly seems to reflect a literal event. The details are in harmony with what scripture, ancient history and archaeology depict of the early years of Solomon’s reign. The description of the royal carriage of Solomon certainly fits his elegant tastes and interest in fine horses.

  • The principle of remembrance of the first affirmation of the commitment

The wedding ceremony is the public declaration of lifetime love and commitment before friends and relatives. A private recall of the ceremony and reaffirmation of the vows, just between husband and wife, from time to time could be a suitable accompaniment to stir up the romance and recapture the romantic awareness of newlyweds. Here are the vows from the traditional ceremony:

Husband: “I … take thee . . . to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for richer,  for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according  to God’s holy ordinance and thereto I give thee my troth (promise).”

Wife: “I . . . take thee . . . to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to cherish, and to obey, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I give thee my troth.”

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Song of Solomon: the Psalm of Married Love: Part III: PUSHING THE RIGHT BUTTONS

Beloved: 2:1: The Shulammite bride playfully describes herself as a wildflower (the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys were flowers that grew and blossomed without artificial cultivation), in short, as a natural beauty in the way that God created her.

  • The principle of godly self understanding

The believer in Christ, man or woman, can be assured in being the creation of God, of his handiwork in his or her appearance.

Do you appreciate the natural features of beauty which are part of the way that God created you? What would you say your strengths are? In what areas could you realistically achieve improvement?

Such areas as diet, exercise, cleanliness, courtesy and tact, and an inner joy and tranquility have much more to do with the qualities of physical attraction than the artificial enhancements of makeup, etc. Moreover, an appreciation of oneself as the creation of God himself should be an encouragement to seek to bring out one’s potential for physical attraction to a level which honors him, your husband and yourself as his handiwork. See Psalm 139:13-14:

“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

Physical beauty is not to be the sole criterion of one’s attraction to the opposite sex, and it can lead to vain self absorption with one’s appearance. For a believer in Christ, though, this does not lead to vanity as long as it is a sign of respect for oneself as God’s creation, and as long as it does not lead to begrudging or demeaning any other woman in regard to her looks. The cautions of the Old and New Testaments about judging inward character from outward appearance and pursuing outward appearance at the expense of inward character were never intended as a warning against all outward adornment and physical enhancement.

Lover: 2:2: Solomon takes up and expands her playful self description as he describes her as a lily among thorns in comparison to the other women. For Solomon himself, this could be the expression of his preference for her above all the other women in his harem; among political and other marriages, apparently this was a marriage of love.

  • The principle of total commitment above all others

Whatever past or present rivals, the spouse needs and should be given reassurance of the total commitment of his or her partner till the end.

“Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8).

Does your wife know that you prefer and are committed to her passionately, completely and utterly above all the other women in your life that you may encounter? Have you told her something to the effect that no one else has a hold on you like her? What kinds of actions can you do to demonstrate this, to give her a deepening sense of security that she and no one else has
your love now? This is especially necessary, for both husbands and wives, where there may have been some sort of past rivals for the love of the spouse. This means offering reassurance where the spouse has definite knowledge about past rivals (never dredge anything unnecessarily from the past).

Beloved: 2:3-13: the Shulammite’s  first soliloquy: vv. 3-7: the bride’s description of their lovemaking: she echoes her preference and commitment to him above all rivals. She further declares her enjoyment of his presence and love. In their bedroom (the banquet hall for their feast of love) the banner (the metaphor drawn from the tribal standards over the camp of each tribe) is love; the reason that he has led her to the place of intimacy to come together is love. Her passion for her husband is so intense that it drains her energy (apples were believed to be an aphrodisiac in the ancient world). The description of his embrace in verse 6, then, seems to describe their sexual embrace. She then concludes with a verse that will be a repeated refrain in 3:5 and 8:4.  Her charge to the other women in verse 7 seems to be for them to allow marital and romantic love to awaken and arouse itself naturally, through a process of mutual attraction and affection.

  • The principle of feminine passion: a woman of God can be passionate for her husband within the will of God.

1. Feminine passion: Does your husband know that you likewise prefer him, being with him and his love, to that of any other man? Are you secure in knowing that the reason that he brings you into your bedroom is love? Does your passion for your husband at times seem to leave you weak and drained (but happy)?

2. Feminine attraction and affection: Do you demonstrate the joy of mutual attraction and affection, rather than demanded or manipulated expressions of affection? Often immaturity will lead a person to expect an instant response to one’s overtures of love, rather than waiting for the partner to understand and respond.

See Ecclesiastes 7:26 for the picture of the manipulative woman and her repulsion to a godly man:
“I find more bitter than death
the woman who is a snare,
whose heart is a trap,
and whose hands are chains.
The man who pleases God will escape her,
but the sinner she will ensnare.”

vv. 8-13: the wife the recounts the invitation of the husband as he came to seek and win her love. His enthusiasm is like that of the male deer or gazelle in the rutting season. The song seems to picture her in a garden courtyard of the palace women’s quarters, and he comes eagerly to invite her to a time of intimacy. He calls her by pet names, and tells her in effect, “Spring is in the air, and it is the time for our love also.”

  • The principle of romantic invitation

The initiative for love is not a demand for self satisfaction, but a gracious, tactful, enthusiastic and playful invitation for mutual satisfaction.

Husbands: note the gracious and enthusiastic invitation that Solomon brought to his bride. A real man need not fear to wax poetic in his passion for his woman, since he is secure enough in his manhood to speak to her at her level, in a way that pleases her, and not to make his sexual overtures a matter of macho posturing.

Wives:  how do you respond when your husband takes the time and puts in the effort to be truly romantic with you? Do you find his enthusiasm and passion for you exhilarating and encouraging?

Lover: 2:14-15: this is probably a continuation of Solomon’s invitation which began in verse 10, rather than a separate speech interrupting the bride’ s soliloquy, which would then continue to 3:11.  Note that verse 15 continues the mention of the blossoming vineyards which began in verse 13.

Apparently the first reaction of the bride is shy and coy, and she hides her (blushing?) face from him and gives no answer to his first invitation. He speaks of her voice and her face — the aspects of her person open to public view. It is not until they are together in the privacy of their bedroom that he begins to describe and compliment other aspects of her person. Verse 15 is admittedly difficult to interpret. The little foxes (the common red fox, not the jackal, which this word can also mean) eat grapes (remember the fable of the fox and the “sour” grapes?), and so they can spoil in one night a vineyard over which one has long labored. So perhaps this verse is saying, “If there are any little problems on your mind that might hinder our time of intimacy, let’s catch them and take care of them right away, rather than lose the enjoyment of a marriage and intimacy on which we have spent so much time and effort.”

  • The principle of constructive dealing with distractions and difficulties

“[Love] is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (I Corinthians 13:5).

Husbands: perhaps your wife is shy and coy when you begin your sexual and romantic overtures; do you have a playful, tactful and gentle manner of drawing her out? Are you ready to deal with the things on her mind that may seem trivial or little to you,  but important to her, before you begin a time of intimacy? In other words, are you willing to go to the bedroom after a heart to heart conversation and time of prayer for your concerns first?

Beloved: 2:16-17: verse 16 is an expression that will be repeated as a refrain in 6:3. It refers apparently to their one-flesh relationship and her perception and pleasure in his enjoyment of her. This is one of the wonderful aspects of their love, that they take pleasure in pleasing each other as much, if not more, than pleasing themselves.

  • The principle of romantic and sexual mutuality

The intention in Biblical marital love is to satisfy the partner as much as oneself.

“[Love] is not self seeking” (I Corinthians 13:5).

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him along, but also to his wife” (I Corinthians 7:3-4).

1. With what objective do you go into your times of sexual intimacy with your spouse? Do you go to please only yourself, or do you go to provide your spouse with the highest sexual enjoyment you can give him or her?

2. How do you respond to your spouse when he or she is seeking intimacy but you may not be immediately ready for such a time? Do you seek to respond and “get in the mood”?

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.